September 18th, 2011
FTX ♥ NY Wrap-Up
A week ago today was one of the most powerful and greatest of my life.
Time and learning are mysteries for me. Something can occur so very long ago and then you realize later what it was for. Proof again for me that every moment, every person, every seemingly lost memory is connected. That hidden in these slight things we will find who we truly are and how we got here.
Among the many epic things that occurred last Sunday to and around me there was one of those times.
Our last public FTX was on May 15th, 2010 in my birthtown of Philadelphia. I was planning to set up at the Art Museum’s steps in front of the Rocky statue – one of my childhood heroes.
Since we never have permits to do an FTX I’m often asked if we get in trouble with the authorities. In truth we never have. The police have always been accepting of the unconditional gift we are handing out. The only issues have ever been with vendors because they could possibly look at us handing out free food as bad for their business. So in turn they can go to park rangers (if we are set up in a park area) and have us moved. This had never happened until May 2010 when the ranger told us that although he loved what we were doing we would have to go across the street to continue. Which we did and led to an amazing moment for me regarding my father who passed on in 1991.
You can read about it here:
I thought after having that experience with my father on that day in May that moving to a new location for FTX was ok with me.
But I was wrong.
I realized as FTX ♥ NY was approaching that I had fear in my heart.
With almost all FTXs I’ve had people express their fear or concern that we could create a disturbance with the police or be moved. And when we did the two FTXs in downtown Los Angeles I actually got letters from people warning me that we would be hurt by the homeless. In all those cases I recognized those worries as not my own and moved forward. And in each case we were a success and able to do the simple thing we wanted to do – hand out free french toast and hugs unconditionally.
But FTX YO! as I called the Rocky event was different. it wasn’t unconditional. I wanted something that had nothing to do with FTX. And I was shaken when I didn’t get it. Small and petty, but true nonetheless.
September 11th, 2001.
A day that changed the world.
Easy to write but in truth that day means something unique and complicated to each and every person.
As I wrote in my invite for our FTX ♥ NY my only goal to do this FTX in NYC on 9/11/11 was to find a connection with the people I would meet that day. And in that connection and communication and understanding to find love.
Before Brandy & I arrived in NY there was the usual concern about setting up our makeshift french toast stand without any permits. But as we scouted Battery Park days before 9/11 a deep and heavy fear sat inside my stomach. The park and area around it was filled with vendors, park rangers, police and military.
Hundreds of flags with the names of the victims of 9/11/01 filled the grass of the park around the Sphere monument erected there after it was damaged and scarred from its original home at the World Trade Center.
Brandy and I started to look for the spot where we would set up. Each spot she recommended with her good heart was vetoed by me as too likely to be “in the way” or “shut down”. I felt so silently depressed that I had to sit down on a bench.
This idea to do an FTX here on this day came to me months back without any prodding. There wasn’t any ulterior motive like I had at the Rocky statue was there? Why would this come to me only to never be realized?
It was then that I acknowledged how I felt about our Philly FTX. It was then that I started to deal with my fear.
We both got up and looked around for a bit more and finally left Battery Park. As we stood in front of the park on the sidewalk, green worn benches stretching out in either direction, a warm breeze filled my lungs and both she and I knew this was the spot. I had never chosen a location to be hidden but rather to be found. And here in front of everything, police lining the road, was it.
In that moment I stopped caring if we would be allowed to stay in Battery Park and I became excited about the idea of having to move to different areas of NYC on that special day. Washington Square Park was my second pick if we moved but in the end we never needed it. I’m a believer that there is nothing to fear on this planet but ourselves and this moment was proof again of it for me. Once I got over my fear things became clear and easy.
Here’s what happened….
I started with “Easy”.
Every FTX begins with me playing The JB’s “Breakin’ Bread” our unofficial theme song but when I woke up at 5am on Sunday the 11th I knew it had to be “Easy” by The Commodores.
Brandy & I met our mom Sandy who was staying with our amazing friend Ana. (Ana single handedly hosted this FTX with supplies, her car, a place for my mom, hard work and an endless amount of love and care).
We didn’t even know if we could GET to Battery Park because of road closures and warnings not to come down due to the many memorials and events taking place. But we went anyway. Brandy went with Ana in her packed to the roof car and I took a cab with my mom.
As my mom & I got out of the taxi I got a call from Brandy saying that they found parking! Now if you don’t live in Manhattan you have no idea what a miracle this was. I figured if we were lucky enough to find a lot open it would cost upwards of $100 to park on this day. But $16!?!?! (a Sunday special!) and the guy even let us park on the sidewalk until we unloaded all our gear!
We then crossed the road to Battery Park where there were more cops than I have ever seen in my life. Here we are, dressed in our bright gold FTX shirts and stickers, pushing a table, coolers, 25 loaves of challah bred, 25 pounds of strawberries and 3 cylinders of propane right past them!!
Brandy and I stopped in our “spot” and began to set up when a park ranger called me over to his car. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, probably expecting some sort of anger or confrontation, when he told me we weren’t allowed to setup. But thanks to FTX YO! I was prepared!! I explained that we are a gang who travels the earth handing out free french toast & hugs to the people. We love the people of NYC and on this day wanted to give them this unconditional gift. He still wouldn’t allow it and so I offered him some fruit which he declined. Unaffected i turned to Brandy & Ana for ideas. Should we move before even setting up? I was completely good with it but Brandy insisted this was still the place to be. She knew it in her heart.
That was when Jonathan, a new friend and local of Battery Park, told us we should just move across the street outside of the park ranger’s jurisdiction.
JUST LIKE IN PHILLY!!!!
We did, all the while with police everywhere. On that street corner was a little market and I went inside with Ana to see if they would be ok with us setting up on their sidewalk. I said the exact same thing to them that I did to the ranger but this time it was a success!
We set up outside and had a line immediately. “Easy” started to play out of my boombox as friends old and new helped out. (my ♥ to Sam, Charles, Sarah, Louisa, Bryan, Amanda, Phil, Haley & Christy)
We fed approximately 200 people over the next 3 hours comprising mostly NYPD, tourists and locals. I think we fed every cop stationed to watch over the park that was in our area at least twice. One sergeant even tried to teach me to project my voice so I could be heard above the crowd as I called to my friend Sam to give him an FTX soundtrack. “Son I’ve been a traffic cop for a whole lot of years, let me show you how it’s done. SAM!!!!” To which she immediately turned and came over with a smile to give him a cd. As she walked away (and as I was still grilling him up some tasty FT) I tried to give it a go. I cleared my throat and expanded my lungs and belted out “SAM!!!!” With absolutely no effect! The sergeant turned to me and in true NY fashion told me “to stick with french toast”.
Each person that came up to my grill was asked two questions: “How are you doing today?” & “How many slices?”. I got many people saying they were good and some saying they were just coping. The air was heavy with so many emotions. The speeches of Bush & Obama (both of whom later drove by us with their spouses – Obama waving to our crew) and various radio communications between the police could be heard broadcast over the area. I heard bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” as they resonated over the stillness.
Hernando, his name embroidered into his work uniform of a local apartment building, stood in front of me with tears on his cheeks telling me that he was in his building when he saw the planes hit the towers. I offered him up some food and a handshake and told him that we were here today for him. That maybe this moment would help. This connection.
In the end FTX ♥ NY was exactly what I dreamed it would be.
An unconditional gift of love for us all.
There was not a single negative moment in the day. When one person in line returned the favor and asked me how I was doing I replied with an enormous grin “I got married this year. And this is my second greatest day. My heart is literally bursting out of my body right now at you. Can you feel it?!”
As the same four of us left that park later that day my heart and hope were restored. I was reminded that there is no gift greater than unconditional love. And I personally want to thank everyone there that day who re-taught me that.
My boombox, still shuffling thru songs played it’s final one as we passed the flags, the Sphere, the park and the people of New York who I love so much. It was the perfect song and a fitting dedication to them and me and even more perfect – it was from my FTX YO! mix!!
Sly & The Family Stone’s – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). Or in other words, thank you for letting me be myself again.
Thank you NYC. Thank you FTX. Thank you.
One of my guests in line jokingly told me that he heard I was a french toast “MASTER”. To which I quickly replied “I never said I was a master. I just said I was a LEGEND”.
Legends. Aren’t we all?
I found this quote by an unknown author in my email at the end of that day sent to me by my friend Trudy, FTX 35. I couldn’t have said it better.
In those days,
we finally chose
to walk like giants
& hold the world
in arms grown strong with love
& there may be many things we forget
in the days to come,
but this will not be one of them.